And the pains to make it a reality.
Take a look at the image below:
If you have never seen Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken, try to guess the personality of each of the girls. Pin down which one is the shy but intense Midori Asakusa, which one is the cheerful and charismatic Tsubame Mizusaki, and which one is the cynical and devious Sayaka Kanamori, and chances are that you’ll guess all three correctly. The reason, of course, is because of how much character is conveyed through the way they're drawn.
Hands Off Eizouken is a love letter to the craft of animation through and through, with the creators injecting a sense of style and purpose into every frame. This catharsis achieved from animation also applies to the show’s plot, with three school girls starting up a film club, which they use as an outlet to create short animated movies. What follows is a pretty accurate portrayal of the creation process, in which ever-expanding ideas for ambitious projects run into the constraints of time and money. Hands Off Eizouken isn’t naive in this regard, and understands that the finished product never fully lives up to the dream inside the creator's head, with cutbacks and compromises at every turn.
And the way this manifests in the show is Asakusa and Mizusaki getting lost in each other’s plans for a stupendous and amazing anime, before being brought down back to earth by Kanamori, asking how they are feasibly going to accomplish all their grand promises. It's refreshing to see a character who is the business-focused one in the creation process, not being vilified as just some money-grabbing scumbag. I mean, in truth, Kanamori is making cash off Asakusa’s and Mizusaki’s efforts, but she is also shown to be the most level-headed of them, constantly pointing out the financial and logistical hurdles they’ll have to overcome.
Kanamori’s backstory also shows her motivations to make money go beyond just simple greed, but instead comes from a far more relatable desire. I also like how Kanamori’s toothy grin makes every expression on her face look like someone who has, or is in the middle of, or is about to commit a crime. The awkward Asakusa also has a compelling story arc, with her yearning to create art coming from an overactive imagination. Normally timid in social situations, there is a burst of excitement that comes fourth when she finds someone who shares her interests. It’s an attitude that I think a lot of creatives have, with them being able to circumvent that worry and fear by opting to express through their craft instead.
It’s Mizusaki that’s sadly the weak link here, and it’s not because I think she is a bad character, in fact, I think she proves to be a great companion to Asakusa during their endeavours. Mizusaki's story involves her parents prohibiting her from taking an interest in anime, and instead wanting her to focus on a modelling career. But the issue is that we never really see the extent of her parents' disapproval, and there is a disconnect between what we are told, and what we are shown.
But enough about the narrative, because it is the animation that makes Hands Off Eizouken so enthralling to watch. There’s a soft, malleable quality about the show, like everything can bend, distort and move at a moments notice, mirroring how the girls are creating, changing and altering their ideas as they go along. Shows like Violet Evergarden may have the upper hand in terms of sheer detail, but they lack the kinetic force that Hands Off Eizouken displays. I’m not saying that one is objectively better than the other, Violet Evergarden focuses on a more painterly art style, so it makes sense to put the work into lighting and texture. However, Hands Off Eizouken is not just about art, it’s about motion, so what it trades in traditional artistic beauty, it makes it up with memorising movement.
There is a pure and unbridled energy to the show that matches the girls’ enthusiasm as they let their imaginations run wild. It actually reminds me of Fooly Cooly, sharing the same attitude of including things simply because the creators thought it would be visually interesting. It makes the case that animation can be used to show the human imagination in ways that would be incredibly hard to do with a mix of live-action and CGI. There is a certain stigma towards hand-drawn animation, as if it is somewhat lesser than traditional film, as if realism is the ultimate goal that all art should aspire to reach. But art can be presented in so many varied ways, that it seems close-minded to say one rules over all others
The music also complements the visuals perfectly, with catchy odd-ball tunes to go along with the girls’ bizarre fantasy worlds, as well as free-spirited and uplifting songs that convey the sense of boundless creativity. A small complaint I have is the reuse of the same song whenever the girls’ enter the…imagine-verse I guess you’d call it, where you see Asakusa's and Mizusaki’s ideas come to life, dragging along a reluctant Kanamori with them. One song I never grew tired of, however, was Chelmico's Easy Breezy, which is used in the exceptionally stylish intro.
My final negative with the show, is how it doesn’t really touch on the anime industry’s plight of artists working unreasonable hours for little pay. I understand that some people will let their love for the medium take over, but most don’t have the luxury of choice when it comes to how much they work. I wished it pushed further into how harmful this kind of behaviour can be, but instead it frames it as just a part of the reality of making anime, which I really hope isn’t actually true.
That nastiness aside, Hands Off Eizouken isn’t just a celebration of anime, it’s a celebration of expression. That desire to make an idea or feeling inside your mind into something more tangible, something that everyone can experience. Whether it be by words, images, music or anything else, Hands Off Eizouken shows that even the greatest works of art started off as just a thought inside a person’s head.